Just a quick note before commencing to mention that this is the Australian dark horror magazine and not the UK-based youth-orientated magazine, SQ Magazine. Searching on Google, etc., will produce confusing results so make sure you get the right site: sqmag.com
Australiana? The title conjured up images of aboriginal mysticism but that’s from somebody on the other side of the world. I’m not even sure if it’s politically correct to use the word “aborigine” and I imagine Native Australian is a safer term to use. Despite that, I wasn’t disappointed with the mag’s first story by Angela Rega. Entitled “The Bush Bride of Badgery Hollow”, it was steeped in weird bush stuff to the extent that I was not sure what was going on and maybe I was quite pleased about that. It had something to do with a guy wanting to have a romantic dalliance with an odd creature from the outback and his subsequent ostracism from society which resulted from this union, but it was a really well constructed story with plenty of atmosphere.
With eight short stories, two reviews, an article and an interview, there’s certainly plenty on offer in this edition. Mitchell Edgeworth’s “Keep the Water Out” gave us a vision of the future, in particular the city of Perth, which, following climate change and rising sea levels, was protected by huge walls. On a little piece of land that was once Australia but was now separated from the mainland, a large community of immigrant Asians existed by scraping a living off anything that was round about them. Wishing to get to Perth, deadly automated sentinels stood in their way. How long would the city be able to keep back the human and watery inundation? A question for the future and also the present!
“The Darkness in Clara” by Alan Baxter punched you in the face right from the start. On discovering her long-time partner Clara hanging by the neck as a result of suicide, Michelle feels she has to dig up the past to try to fathom the depths of the departed’s soul. Maybe not a wise decision, nevertheless she goes back to the town where Clara grew up only to find severe hostility. Of the many characters there was nobody to beat Wendy. What great descriptions you get in the story! Anyway, it turns out that Wendy and her pals detested Clara and had no sympathy for her suicide. Something in the past was the source of irritation and it was possibly to do with black magic!
An uncomfortable story to read because of the subject matter, it nevertheless became gripping especially with very believable characters that don’t miss and hit the wall. A really good story!
Tehani Wessley and Geoff Brown’s article “State of Play of Australian Speculative Fiction” discussed some of the statistics of current writers and it seems to be the case that unlike in the rest of the world, here women seem to be doing better than the men. Whereas in some countries, the genre is pretty exclusively male, it’s not so in Australia. Well done the sheilas! Unfortunately it is still often perceived, even in the UK, that Australians live in the outback, drink lager and are defined by a lack of culture with the popular advertisements for alcoholic drinks probably reinforcing this idea. They have no idea that Australia is a very modern country, more so than most of Europe, and is a vibrant member of the Pacific economy. Likewise, the fiction and the writers are right up there with the best of them, a conclusion you come to when reading SQ Mag.
“Bones” by Michelle Jager told the story of Mervyn, a drifter with no fixed abode, who wanders around small towns picking up girls for pleasure. He seems to be having a good time but is emotionally vacant. Then he meets a strange looking girl, as most of us do at some time or other, and something odd begins to happen. It’s a rather expected conclusion but it’s well described and expertly written.
We’ve also got a peculiarly odd story entitled “Eleanor Atkins is Dead and Her House is Boarded Up” by Kaaron Warren. It is centred on a strange woman and her relationship with the ghosts in her house. Rather creepy despite ostensibly nothing happening, it makes you look at the lives of others, imagining that maybe ghosts are haunting them. The magazine contains three more stories, a couple of book reviews and interview, making it a well rounded affair which is rewarding to read.
This being my first reading of the magazine, I was far from disappointed. The quality of the fiction was really good with a wide variety of stories which were challenging both intellectually and emotionally. I’ll certainly be reading the next issue.